Advent calendar

Door 8: The 1631 eruption of Mt Vesuvius

Eight

So, a confession, this one might not be technically ‘on this day’ but it did happen in December 1631 so I’m letting it slide…! Mt Vesuvius is no stranger to historic devastating eruptions as recently portrayed in the wonderfully realistic (ahem) film ‘Pompeii’, indeed it might help you to watch a clip of the film to give you some top-class imagery of what went down in 1631 might have looked like…(skip to 01:05 for eruption action!).

 

Mt Vesuvius is a Stratovolcano found in the Gulf of Napes in southern Italy and forms part of the Campanian volcanic arc. These are a line of volcanoes that formed a subduction zone stretching the length of the Italian peninsula including other famous volcanoes such as Etna and Stromboli.

Mt Vesuvius in the distance with the densely populated Naples in the Foreground. Image Credit - Antonsusi, Wikimedia Commons.

Mt Vesuvius in the distance with the densely populated Naples in the Foreground. Image Credit – Antonsusi, Wikimedia Commons.

While the eruption of AD 79, which destroyed Pompeii and Herculaneum is its most famous it has also erupted many times since then and is the only volcano in Europe to have erupted in the last 100 years. It is often described as one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world due to the enormous population in the very near vicinity.  The 1631 eruption came after hundreds of years of dormancy since the late 13th Century. In this period of quiet, the whole area became covered in shrubbery and vineyards and you can imagine the prospect of an eruption became a distant concern.  1631 marked a move into a new phase of activity.

The eruption of 1631 actually took place on December 16th in the early morning around 6

18th C painting of Vesuvius from Portici by Joseph Wright of Derby. Image Credit - Wikimedia Commons.

18th C painting of Vesuvius from Portici by Joseph Wright of Derby. Image Credit – Wikimedia Commons.

am, and marked a new phase of activity. The initial eruption resulted in the descent of darkness around the volcano and a series of earthquakes throughout the day, roughly every 1-15 minutes! In the middle of the night on the 17th of December, heavy rain mobilised the fallen ash into lahars which cascaded down the volcano slopes. Later in the day on the 17th, after many more earthquakes there was an explosion of ash, gas and rocks out of the crater followed by an apparent liquefaction of the mountain. From reports at the time,  the movement resembled the flow of water and flowing ash caused widespread devastation of the local vegetation and buildings, and to make matters worse, there was also an eruption-related tsunami! By the evening of the 17th of December, much of the ferocity of the eruption has subsided, activity continued but declined in strength over the coming days. The eruption is thought to have killed between 3000-6000 people, rescue teams working several days after the eruption managed to save those that had not been hit by the flowing ash. But it wasn’t quiet in Naples for long, not only were there another 4 eruptions in that century, there has now been 22 eruptions at Vesuvius since the 1631 eruption with the last being in 1944 during the WWII when there were many troops up on the Volcano when it erupted (including my Grandpa!).

Crew member cleaning the ashes and cinders off the wing of a North American B-25 of the 340th Bomb Group, caused by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius on 23 March 1944. Image Credit - United States Army Air Force.

Crew member cleaning the ashes and cinders off the wing of a North American B-25 of the 340th Bomb Group, caused by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius on 23 March 1944. Image Credit – United States Army Air Force.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Competition update

Well done everyone who identified friday’s window as the Callanish Stones, Saturday’s as Durham Cathedral and yesterday’s window as the Cliffs of Moher, check the links for more info on these sites – leave a comment below if you recognise today’s! First to post the correct answer wins a point towards the Ultimate Geoadvent Prize….

We now have an exciting tie with both Chris Jack and Clark Fenton in the lead on two points, with Rallish, Marie and Martin Heys all on one…

5 thoughts on “Door 8: The 1631 eruption of Mt Vesuvius

  1. When you say it was the only volcano to erupt in Europe in the last 100 years, do you mean on the mainland, because obviously Etna regularly erupts, and there’s been a lot of activity on Iceland recently.

  2. Pingback: Door 24: We wish you a Merry (Mary Anning) Christmas | Geological Society of London blog

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